MOGADISHU: Somalia’s president sacked his security chiefs Wednesday after Islamist Al-Shabab fighters struck the heart of government in an escalating campaign of attacks in the capital and across East Africa.
Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabab commandos stormed the presidential palace late Tuesday for the second time this year, demonstrating again their ability to infiltrate Mogadishu and hit the most fortified centers of the country’s internationally backed government.
President Hasan Sheikh Mohamud, who was not in the complex at the time of the attack, delivered a defiant message close to the charred wreckage of the car bomb that gunmen used in their attempt to storm the compound.
“I am here to stay, with Allah’s will I say to them, you will not kill us, and nor will you demolish our spirit,” Mohamud said, also thanking the African Union force who helped battle the attackers and guard officials.
Despite dismissing the Al-Shabab attack as a “failure,” several top security officials whose job it is to protect the capital were fired.
“Both the police and intelligence chiefs were replaced and the national security minister was named,” Information Minister Mustafa Duhulow said. Khalif Ahmad Ereg, a former intelligence chief, was named as Somalia’s new national security minister.
Mohammad Abdulahi Hasan was appointed as the new intelligence chief, and Mohammad Sheikh Hasan as police chief.
Recent Al-Shabab attacks have targeted key areas of Somalia’s government or the security forces, seemingly as part of a bid to discredit claims the authorities are winning the war against the Islamists.
While the 22,000-strong African Union force launched a fresh offensive in March against Al-Shabab bases, seizing a series of towns, the insurgents have largely fled in advance and suffered few casualties.
Despite territorial losses, the International Crisis Group warned that Al-Shabab fighters continue to have “deep reservoirs of fiscal and ideological support,” saying in a recent report the “long connection between Al-Shabab’s current leadership and Al-Qaeda is likely to strengthen.”
As Al-Shabab-held towns shrink in number, the extremists are shifting toward using “radicalized and well-trained individuals” to carry out “assassinations and terrorist attacks in urban areas, including increasingly in neighboring countries, especially Kenya,” the ICG said.
An Al-Shabab spokesman confirmed the group was behind Tuesday’s attack, and claimed their commandos had at one point managed to seize the president’s office inside the compound known as Villa Somalia.
However, the government dismissed their claims, saying the attackers had been killed near the entrance of the compound.